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Courage Award Finalists 2019

Recovering from stroke can be an uphill battle. The Courage Award recognises the indomitable courage and hope shown by survivors and carers in facing stroke recovery. This category is open to survivors and carers and celebrates individual recovery and resilience.

2019 Courage Award Finalists

Stephen and Tracy Ward - NSW - Winner

Tracy and Stephen Ward

When and where did you suffer your stroke?
In 2013 Stephen had a headache one morning and while Tracy popped out of the house with their daughter Emily, Stephen suffered a stroke.  Tracy found him on the floor fifteen minutes later and recognising the FAST signs called triple zero immediately.  Unfortunately the paramedic that arrived twenty five minutes later, did not believe Stephen was having a stroke and transferred him to their local district hospital – which does not have a stroke unit.  Stephen arrived at the stroke unit approximately six hours after he suffered his stroke and missed time critical treatment.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
As a result Stephen spent 4 weeks in intensive care after undergoing emergency cranioplasty and suffered further complications later in ICU.  He then spent 6 weeks on the stroke ward and 5 months in rehabilitation.  All whilst Tracy and their children lived 150 km away in Denman.  Stephen was left with aphasia, some cognitive issues and right sided hemiplegia and hemianopia.

One thing that always bothered them about their experience was that if they had lived in a city, Stephen probably would have been able to access emergency clot busting therapy and would be back to living a full life.  Stephen will probably never return to work as a civil engineer and Tracy will always be his carer. 
 
How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
When the Stroke Foundation were looking for people to talk to the media for their “No Postcode Untouched” promotion, Stephen and Tracy jumped at the chance to tell their story if only to bring more awareness of the divide that exists between city and country.  They later had the chance to tell their story to the people who can change the system.  Tracy and Stephen travelled to Parliament House in Canberra and addressed an audience that included the health minister, the Honourable Greg Hunt.

Since that day Tracy and Stephen have spent time contacting their local state and federal politicians to talk about funding for Stroke.  During the lead up to the NSW state election Tracy and Stephen spoke to four of the candidates in their seat securing support for the Stroke Foundation’s election platform.

They will continue to talk about their experience with politicians until the telehealth program is fully funded and there are much better retrieval systems in place for people who suffer strokes in the country.

Tania Shirgwin - SA

Tania Shirgwin

Tania was running her own small creative agency working with tourism and hospitality when she had her stroke. Luckily she recognised the stroke F.A.S.T. symptoms and has been making recovery and lives life to the fullest potential. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
The stroke has left me with Homonymous Hemianopia, left side mobility issues and other strange habits (like I can’t keep my left shoe on unless it’s strapped on). Also I still have stroke fatigue, but it is nowhere as prominent as it was in the first year. I also suffer continual pain in my left side and get my arm strapped regularly. Also straight after the stroke, I found writing very difficult – it took me 2 hours once to write a Facebook post because I could not come up with the word umbrella. 
 
The loss of license (independence) became my biggest challenge because we were unsure how much visual field I had and I had to undergo driver Occupational Therapy and retrain. When I came out of rehabilitation, I was fortunate that my own physiotherapist did hydrotherapy. 

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?
So so many people – it took a community! For my close family and friends – my big sister who left her family on Christmas Day to be with our 86 year old mum.  
A few friends banned together to pick me up after their kids school drop off and get me to hydro. Others picked me up after or organised the taxi service. It took my community – but everyone was so helpful and I am so grateful. 

BUT a huge thanks goes to a friend Claudine who is a nurse and recognised immediately I should connect with the Stroke Foundation. I actually hadn’t been told in either the hospital or rehab about the Stroke Foundation, so Claudine pulled all the information together and would visit me regularly driving up from Adelaide to assist me. She forced me to connect with the Stroke Foundation and that is when I realised I wasn’t alone. It was so enlightening to connect with others in a similar situation. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
Of course stroke has changed my life immensely.  Four years in, I feel I have accomplished a lot though. Undertaking The Long Drive Up in Sept 2018 and fundraising for the Stroke Foundation was cathartic – gave me insights into my stroke journey and life journey. It also gave me closure on a few things which has helped keep me positive. Stroke will always be a part of my life, but it doesn’t define who I am.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
Do not give in or give up!  It may seem bleak and you will most possibly go through stages of grief and depression. Reach out to others – ask for help. And do connect with other stroke survivors whether that be in your local region or through the Stroke Foundation. 

Shane Isles - QLD

Shane Isles and his family

Shane was an active 29 year old who loved the outdoors when his life changed immensely. Shane was a fighter and has returned to many of his former abilities as well as being a father of two and becoming a recreation officer in the rehabilitation unit. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
Having a stroke changed my life immensely because it took some time for me to accept that it (the injury to my brain) was going to take a great length of time for me to reach a point where my recovery had reached its peak. I must admit that at times rehabilitation and therapy seemed insurmountable. Sometimes I would get frustrated and upset very easily and didn’t know why. I set achievable tasks for each day to avoid burn out.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

The one stand out positive way in which stroke has changed my life is that I am now employed as a recreation officer for Queensland Health at the Bundaberg Hospital (a goal I set back in 2011). I am extremely fortunate to have a job where I can make a real difference to patients in the ward in which I work, In particular the stroke patients.  

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
My advice is to accept the help from those around you including loved ones and health professionals because things are more challenging than before you have your stroke. Additionally try not to think too much about what you can’t do anymore, but focus on the things that you can.

Rob Goyen - WA

Rob Goyen

Rob has shown exceptional dedication to improving his own life after stroke. He has used his progress to inspire others to follow their dreams and he has shared his story to raise awareness of stroke in the community.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
It changed it a great deal as I was a fit healthy thirty-four year old, I had to learn to use parts of my right side and learn to speak again. I had weeks in rehab then it took a year or so to really feel like I was making progress in regards to getting back to full strength. The physical debilitation was one thing however the mental side in regards to losing faith in my body was and still is the hardest thing for me to deal with. Therefore pushing myself every day is part of my ongoing rehab as I slowly build trust in my body again.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey? 
My wife is 100% why I am here today and works with me every day when I suffer with anxiety (another little present having a stroke left me). She is the most amazing human on this planet.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
It has changed the way I look at everything, it’s a cliché but life is short and I have a second chance so I am going to see what I can get out of my body. I am physically now 99% better but mentally I still have a way to go. I am working on this every day with the help of the people around me. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
Stay positive and set yourself small goals each day, even if it is walking one step or wheeling your chair one meter. Or if you are stuck in bed do something like hold your hands out in front of you for 10 seconds. Then each day increase these things in very small increments. Try and enjoy the rehab, sometimes you will be frustrated but remember it’s a long game.

Brooke Parsons - VIC

Brooke Parsons

Brooke was a young, active 13 year old when stroke dramatically changed her life. She lived through some of her greatest fears and faced the type of challenges nobody should have to face as a young teenager. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
I had no muscle control on the right side of my body. I was thinking clearly but nothing was coming out clearly. By the time my parents got me to the local hospital I was a baby again, unable to walk, talk, feed myself, dress myself, go to the toilet myself etc. 

Then over the last 25 years on top of the neuro, physio, speech, occupational therapy appointments, surgeries to correct deformities, other chronic health conditions have been diagnosed. All of which has brought more layers to what is now a complex medical history. In March 2019 I had my 80th surgery in 25 years. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
My recovery is a journey that continues every day. I have to take the good days with the bad days. I'm walking, using aides most days but I am walking. I'm talking, I live in independently and I love being told "I can't do something" as that pushes me forward to prove people and myself wrong.

The biggest thing I probably battle with other than my physical disability is constant fatigue. I felt like a raggy doll owned by a little girl whose dragged me behind her for I have many scars as evidence. These scars are a part of my story, these scars have put me back together and they are evidence that I have been put to the test and have won. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
My story is just one story of being a stroke survivor and unfortunately there are way too many stroke survivor stories out there. The fact that we have survived a stroke makes us extraordinary. Everyone is fighting a hard battle but all you need to do is look to see what are the other people are seeing. I always live in awe of the glorious mechanism of the human body!